§ Mr. Hume
presented a petition from the fustian-cutters of Manchester and its vicinity, on the subject of the Combination Laws, setting forth, that very great benefit had arisen to the trade in general by the repeal of those old oppressive laws, and that a much better understanding between master and man had been established, in consequence, than heretofore; which advantages, however, the petitioners feared would be destroyed in consequence of what had recently been said on the sub- 299 ject, previously to the appointment of the committee to inquire into the effect of such repeal. The hon. gentleman took the opportunity of stating, that much of the present ferment among the men arose from the dread they entertained of some intention on the part of ministers to return to the old laws against combinations. He had the evidence of a master collier in that part of the country, that, but for the recent appointment of the committee in question, the association of Ayr, which had been described in such terrific terms, would have died a natural death. The hon. gentleman then presented a petition from certain individuals of Cromarty, engaged in the Herring fishery, against the Herring and Cod Fishery Company bill; and from Devon, complaining of the enormous price of provisions of all kinds, and expressing a hope that the duties on grain would be reduced to such a standard as would better enable them to afford their labour at the present lowered rate of wages.
begged to call the attention of the House to a subject which he thought had not been sufficiently attended to by the House, but which was strongly suggested by the last petition. His majesty's ministers had lately adopted a variety of regulations relative to the encouragement and opening of our commerce, and a free trade in our manufactures. The result of all those arrangements would be, to let in the cheap labour of the continent to cope with our cheap labour. But, how could that cheap labour long continue in England, while the prices of food were so excessive as they now were? How was it possible that our manufactures should long be able to contend with the manufactures supplied by the cheaper labour of the continent, while the high duties on imported corn were kept up at their present standard? He maintained, that ministers should have paused before they ventured upon adopting such regulations in respect of our trade and manufactures. They should have considered the Corn laws in the first place; and should now consider them, before they took any other steps in regard to our commerce. If this course were not immediately adopted, some very considerable evil would be sure to follow upon its neglect. The manufacturing gentlemen would soon discover the manufactures of the country not to be in so flourishing a state as they now were. We 300 relied mainly on our skill, indeed; for, as to manual labour, it was obvious that in that we should be competed with. But he would entreat gentlemen not to rely too implicitly even on our skill; for America possessed that quality too; and it was only on the preceding night that a right hon. gentleman had informed the House, that America could compete with our skill in the cotton manufacture. The subject was altogether of the most serious import.